Review: So... Buttons #1

So, there is exactly one reason why I picked up this book from Comixology Submit: my dad. See, during my formative youth, “So buttons” was the beginning of one of my old man’s favorite phrases. It went a little something like this... Dad: That grass out there looks like it’s getting pretty long.

Me: Yup. So?

Dad: So buttons on ice cream! Get out there and mow the lawn!

I still have no idea what the hell it means - something to do with “sewing” ice cream. Look, I dunno, this is a guy who, whenever I asked what was for dinner, would tell me either “great big greasy gorilla ribs smothered in bubble gum” or “cat pee and pepper.” So my dad’s a bit of a quirky dude, and I guess I was hoping for a similar idiosyncrasy in this book. But while some of So...Buttons is endearing and even ... I guess I wanna say “cute” ... I found this collection of short stories at best hard to relate to, and at worst, not very interesting.

SoButtons_01The book starts off by unleashing the lion’s share of its charm. In “So...My Dad got Drafted,” a quickie surrounding the theme of familial discovery (and promising shared Dad stories), Baylis finds out more about his otherwise predictable pops while getting some lunch one day, ironically, at a BBQ pork place. I say “ironically” because, as we are very quickly, and very oftentold, Baylis’ family is Jewish. And hey, that’s great! Mozel tov, you know?

But unfortunately, what begins between a couple of parentheses in a small but striking aside of (we’re Jewish...), continues with that simultaneous self-effacing / self-aggrandizing culture comedy that touches on and exploits pretty much every given stereotype, in this case regarding the Jewish community. And that’s fine, but unless you’re part of that culture, you can’t really get in on the joke completely ... not that Baylis doesn’t try in the very next story, to a kind of off-putting effect.

“So ... Racist?” is a story about the author realizing that he might not be as racially sensitive as he thought, after coming across (no pun intended) an interracial adult movie called Black Dicks in White Chicks, which is actually a pretty decent film. Its sequel, Black Dicks in White Chicks II: Electric Boobie Glue, was derivative and hackneyed by comparison.

This has probably the best humor of the collection, and offers an honestly funny premise ... but there’s a point near the end where Baylis sort of sounds like he’s saying, “It’s okay, you guys, some of my best friends are black,” which made me shudder. I think it would have worked had this been done (not to sound like a hipster) ironically, but it wasn’t, so it didn’t. At the same time, he throws down the Jewish card with all his might here in a decisive “this is not racist” way. And it’s not racist, really, just poorly executed.

After that, in rapid-fire succession, we see pleasant enough, shorter stories about his ill-fated attempt to impress his elementary school chums with his knowledge of the musical Annie, his ongoing relationship with a comedian and what it’s like to have breakfast at a diner ... none of which tickled my brand of fancy.

To close his book, Baylis hits us with “So...Only Nixon Could’ve Gone to China.” Ostensibly, this one’s about how he left NYU to study abroad ... making sure that his readers damn well know how much tuition costs there, for some reason. Most of his trip around Europe consists of drinking in London, smoking pot in Amsterdam and listening to tapes on a train (starring Samuel L. Jackson). Right on, but these stories don’t really lead to any point other than, “Hey, look what I did!”

In the midst of all this globetrotting, we get to what is meant to be a poignant pinpoint: his visit of Dachau, Nazi Germany’s first concentration camp. However, for what should be an emotional topic, this part feels forced. I’m sure he didn’t man to write it this way, but the 3/4 of a page it takes to tell this part serves only to remind us that the holocaust was really fucking bad, rather than focusing on telling us what he personally took from the experience. I see what he starts to do near the end of the story, somewhat cleverly comparing the worth of human structures, but this feels shoehorned and uncomfortably engineered to elicit an emotional response, while failing to do so in any meaningful way.

The art of So...Buttons changes hands from story to story between three collaborators, and I quite like the way it leaps between styles, from a sketchpad sort of visual diary to an almost Archie Digest kind of innocence to a nostalgic strip from the funny papers. Even though I didn’t appreciate the story as much, the art of “Only Nixon...” was stellar, particularly that last page. Each style in its own way feels cozy enough to contain what is a self-centric comic.

So...Buttons isn’t for everyone, and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s for me. If, however, you are interested in getting a little slice from the life of Jonathan Michael Baylis, then this one is definitely for you.

Score: 3/5

Writer: Jonathan Michael Baylis Artists: T.J. Kirsch, Mr. Alan, David Beyer Jr. Available from Comixology Submit (although most stories were originally published in other magazines) Price: $1.99 Release Date: 5/22/13